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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 33. Death
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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 33. Death Post by :Des_Walsh Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :574

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The Mystery Of Metropolisville - Chapter 33. Death

CHAPTER XXXIII. DEATH

Mrs. Plausaby grew more feeble. Her remorse and her feeling of the dire necessity for confessing her sin had sustained her hitherto. But now her duty was done, she had no longer any mental stimulant. In spite of Isa's devoted and ingenious kindness, the sensitive vanity of Mrs. Plausaby detected in every motion evidence that Isa thought of her as a thief. She somehow got a notion that Mrs. Ferret knew all about it also, and from her and Mr. Lurton she half-hid her face in the cover. Lurton, perceiving that his mission to Mrs. Plausaby was ended, returned home, intending to see Isabel when circumstances should be more favorable. But the Ferret kept sniffing round after a secret which she knew lay not far away. Mrs. Plausaby having suddenly grown worse, Isa determined to sit by her during the night, but Plausaby strenuously objected that this was unnecessary. The poor woman secretly besought Isa not to leave her alone with Plausaby, and Isabel positively refused to go away from her bedside. For the first time Mr. Plausaby spoke harshly to Isa, and for the first time Isabel treated him with a savage neglect. A housekeeper's authority is generally supreme in the house, and Isa had gradually come to be the housekeeper. She sat stubbornly by the dying woman during the whole night.

Mr. Plausaby had his course distinctly marked out. In the morning he watched anxiously for the arrival of his trusted lawyer, Mr. Conger. The property which he had married with his wife, and which she had derived from Albert's father, had all been made over to her again to save it from Plausaby's rather eager creditors. He had spent the preceding day at Perritaut, whither Mr. Conger had gone to appear in a case as counsel for Plausaby, for the county-seat had recently returned to its old abode. Mr. Plausaby intended to have his wife make some kind of a will that would give him control of the property and yet keep it under shelter. By what legal fencing this was to be done nobody knows, but it has been often surmised that Mrs. Plausaby was to leave it to her husband in trust for the Metropolisville University. Mr. Plausaby had already acquired experience in the management of trust funds, in the matter of Isa's patrimony, and it would not be a feat beyond his ability for him to own his wife's bequest and not to own it at the same time. This was the easier that territorial codes are generally made for the benefit of absconding debtors. He had made many fair promises about a final transfer of this property to Albert and Katy when they should both be of age, but all that was now forgotten, as it was intended to be.

Mr. Plausaby was nervous. His easy, self-possessed manner had departed, and that impenetrable coat of mail being now broken up, he shuddered whenever the honest, indignant eyes of Miss Marlay looked at him. He longed for the presence of the bustling, energetic man of law, to keep him in countenance.

When the lawyer came, he and Plausaby were closeted for half an hour. Then Plausaby, Esq., took a walk, and the attorney requested an interview with Isabel. She came in, stiff, cold, and self-possessed.

"Miss Marlay," said the lawyer, smiling a little as became a man asking a favor from a lady, and yet looking out at Isa in a penetrating way from beneath shadowing eyebrows, "will you have the goodness to tell me the nature of the paper that Mrs. Plausaby signed yesterday?"

"Did Mrs. Plausaby sign a paper yesterday?" asked Isabel diplomatically.

"I have information to that effect. Will you tell me whether that paper was of the nature of a will or deed or--in short, what was its character?"

"I will not tell you anything about it. It is Mrs. Plausaby's secret. I suppose you get your information from Mrs. Ferret. If she chooses to tell you the contents, she may."

"You are a little sharp, Miss Marlay. I understand that Mrs. Ferret does not know the contents of that paper. As the confidential legal adviser of Mr. Plausaby and of Mrs. Plausaby, I have a right to ask what the contents of that paper were."

"As the confidential legal adviser--" Isa stopped and stammered. She was about to retort that as confidential legal adviser to Mrs. Plausaby he might ask that lady herself, but she was afraid of his doing that very thing; so she stopped short and, because she was confused, grew a little angry, and told Mr. Conger that he had no right to ask any questions, and then got up and disdainfully walked out of the room. And the lawyer, left alone, meditated that women had a way, when they were likely to be defeated, of getting angry, or pretending to get angry. And you never could do anything with a woman when she was angry. Or, as Conger framed it in his mind, a mad dog was easier to handle than a mad woman.

As the paper signed the day before could not have been legally executed, Plausaby and his lawyer guessed very readily that it probably did not relate to property. The next step was an easy one to the client if not to the lawyer. It must relate to the crime--it was a solution of the mystery. Plausaby knew well enough that a confession had been made to Lurton, but he had not suspected that Isabel would go so far as to put it into writing. The best that could be done was to have Conger frame a counter-declaration that her confession had been signed under a misapprehension--had been obtained by coercion, over-persuasion, and so forth. Plausaby knew that his wife would sign anything if he could present the matter to her alone. But, to get rid of Isabel Marlay?

A very coward now in the presence of Isa, he sent the lawyer ahead, while he followed close behind.

"Miss Marlay," said Mr. Conger, smiling blandly but speaking with decision, "it will be necessary for me to speak to Mrs. Plausaby for a few minutes alone."

It is curious what an effect a tone of authority has. Isa rose and would have gone out, but Mrs. Plausaby said, "Don't leave me, don't leave me, Isa; they want to arrest me, I believe."

Seeing her advantage, Miss Marlay said, "Mrs. Plausaby wishes me to stay."

It was in vain that the lawyer insisted. It was in vain that Mr. Plausaby stepped forward and told Mrs. Plausaby to ask Isabel to leave the room a minute. The sick woman only drew the cover over her eyes and held fast to Isabel's hand and said: "No, no, don't go--Isa, don't go."

"I will not go till you ask me," said Isa.

At last, however, Plausaby pushed himself close to his wife and said something in her ear. She turned pale, and when he asked if she wished Isabel to go she nodded her head.

"But I won't go at all now," said Isa stubbornly, "unless you will go out of the room first. Then, if Mrs. Plausaby tells me that she wishes to see you and this gentleman without my presence, I shall go."

Mr. Plausaby drew the attorney into one corner of the room for consultation. Nothing but the desperateness of his position and the energetic advice of Mr. Conger could have induced him to take the course which he now decided upon, for force was not a common resort with him, and with all his faults, he was a man of much kindness of heart.

"Isa," he said, "I have always been a father to you. Now you are conspiring against me. If you do not go out, I shall be under the painful necessity of putting you out, gently, but by main strength." The old smile was on his face. He seized her arms, and Isa, seeing how useless resistance would be, and how much harm excitement might do to the patient, rose to go. But at that moment, happening to look toward the bed, she cried out, "Mrs. Plausaby is dying!" and she would not have been a woman if she could have helped adding, "See what you have done, now!"

There was nothing Mr. Plausaby wanted less than that his wife should die at this inconvenient moment. He ran off for the doctor, but poor, weak Mrs. Plausaby was past signing wills or recantations.

The next day she died.

And Isa wrote to Albert:

"METROPOLISVILLE, May 17th, 1857.

"MR. CHARLTON:

"DEAR SIR: Your poor mother died yesterday. She suffered little in body, and her mind was much more peaceful after her last interview with Mr. Lurton, which resulted in her making a frank statement of the circumstances of the land-warrant affair. She afterward had it written down, and signed it, that it might be used to set you free. She also asked me to tell Miss Minorkey, and I shall send her a letter by this mail. I am so glad that your innocence is to be proved at last. I have said nothing about the statement your mother made to any one except Miss Minorkey, because I am unwilling to use it without your consent. You have great reason to be grateful to Mr. Lurton. Ho has shown himself your friend, indeed. I think him an excellent man. He comforted your mother a great deal. You had better let me put the writing your mother left, into his hands. I am sure he will secure your freedom for you.

"Your mother died without any will, and all the property is yours. Your father earned it, and I am glad it goes back to its rightful owner. You will not agree with me, but I believe in a Providence, now, more than ever.

"Truly your friend, ISABEL MARLAY."

The intelligence of his mother's death caused Albert a real sorrow. And yet he could hardly regret it. Charlton was not conscious of anything but a filial grief. But the feeling of relief modified his sorrow.

The letter filled him with a hope of pardon. Now that he could without danger to his mother seek release from an unjust incarceration, he became eager to get out. The possibility of release made every hour of confinement intolerable.

He experienced a certain dissatisfaction with Isa's letter. She had always since his imprisonment taken pains to write cordially. He had been "Dear Mr. Charlton," or "My Dear Mr. Charlton," and sometimes even "My Dear Friend." Isa was anxious that he should not feel any coldness in her letters. Now that he was about to be released and would naturally feel grateful to her, the case was very different. But Albert could not see why she should be so friendly with him when she had every reason to believe him guilty, and now that she knew him innocent should freeze him with a stranger-like coolness. He had resolved to care nothing for her, and yet here he was anxious for some sign that she cared for him.

Albert wrote in reply:

"HOUSE OF BONDAGE, May 20th, 1857.

"MY DEAR, GOOD FRIEND: The death of my mother has given me a great deal of sorrow, though it did not surprise me. I remember now how many times of late years I have given her needless trouble. For whatever mistakes her personal peculiarities led her into, she was certainly a most affectionate mother. I can now see, and the reflection causes me much bitterness, that I might have been more thoughtful of her happiness without compromising my opinions. How much trouble my self-conceit must have given her! Your rebuke on this subject has been very fresh in mind since I heard of her death. And I am feeling lonely, too. Mother and Katy have gone, and more distant relatives will not care to know an outlaw.

"If I had not seen Mr. Lurton, I should not have known how much I owe to your faithful friendship. I doubt not God will reward you. For I, too, am coming to believe in a Providence!

"Sometimes I think this prison has done me good. There may be some truth, after all, in that acrid saying of Mrs. Ferret's about 'sanctified affliction,' though she _does know how to make even truth hateful. I haven't learned to believe as you and Mr. Lurton would have me, and yet I have learned not to believe so much in my own infallibility. I have been a high-church skeptic--I thought as much of my own infallibility as poor O'Neill in the next cell does of the Pope's. And I suppose I shall always have a good deal of aggressiveness and uneasiness and all that about me--I am the same restless man yet, full of projects and of opinions. I can not be Lurton--I almost wish I could. But I have learned some things. I am yet very unsettled in my opinions about Christ--sometimes he seems to be a human manifestation of God, and at other times, when my skeptical habit comes back, he seems only the divinest of men. But I believe _in him with all my heart, and may be I shall settle down on some definite opinion after a while. I had a mind to ask Lurton to baptize me the other day, but I feared he wouldn't do it. All the faith I could profess would be that I believe enough in Christ to wish to be his disciple. I know Mr. Lurton wouldn't think that enough. But I don't believe Jesus himself would refuse me. His immediate followers couldn't have believed much more than that at first. And I don't think you would refuse me baptism if you were a minister.

"Mr. Lurton has kindly offered to endeavor to secure my release, and he will call on you for that paper. I hope you'll like Lurton as well as he does you. You are the only woman in the world good enough for him, and he is the only man fit for you. And if it should ever come to pass that you and he should be happy together, I shall be too glad to envy either of you.

"Do shield the memory of my mother. You know how little she was to blame. I can not bear that people should talk about her unkindly. She had such a dread of censure. I think that is what killed her. I am sorry you wrote to Helen Minorkey. I could not now share my disgrace with a wife; and if I could marry, _she is one of the last I should ever think of seeking. I do not even care to have her think well of me.

"As to the property, I am greatly perplexed. Plausaby owned it once rightfully and legally, and there are innocent creditors who trusted him on the strength of his possession of it. I wish I did not have the responsibility of deciding what I ought to do.

"I have written a long letter. I would write a great deal more if I thought I could ever express the gratitude I feel to you. But I am going to be always,

"Your grateful and faithful friend,

"ALBERT CHARLTON."

This letter set Isabel's mind in a whirl of emotions. She sincerely admired Lurton, but she had never thought of him as a lover. Albert's gratitude and praises would have made her happy, but his confidence that she would marry Lurton vexed her. And yet the thought that Lurton might love her made it hard to keep from dreaming of a new future, brighter than any she had supposed possible to her.

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